The strength of the UK jobs market has been one of the big success stories of recent years. Yet for many people work does not always offer a prospect of development, progression and associated reward. What can business do to give people the opportunity to move forward, earn more and build successful careers for themselves?
A big part of the challenge can be seen by comparing two 2014 surveys. Whilst a majority of respondents to an ICM research poll raised “wages that lag behind living costs” as one of their greatest worries , another survey carried out by PwC revealed that UK business leaders rated the lack of availability of key skills as one of the biggest business threats to their future success.
Focusing on skill acquisition as way to unlock productivity and lift pay could potentially help tackle both of these problems. To begin with, individual companies can, and many already do, look at how people can develop and progress with them through accessible, structured and transparent career pathways.
At Interserve we have committed to creating more skills and more opportunities through work placements, apprenticeships, and targeted training schemes. We have set ourselves challenging targets in our SustainAbilities programme on providing accessibility to work and skills development, recognising the value both for the organisation, and its relationship with customers, supply chains and the communities within which we work.
But to make a real impact we all need to think bigger. Earlier this year we lent our support to an independent report by the Social Market Foundation that looked at how skills provision, directly linked to pay progression, could be rolled out on a national level through a ‘Skills for Progress’ scheme.
The crux of the argument is that for those people trapped in a cycle of low pay and low skills, often long term and supplemented by benefits, the lasting way to tackle the problem is to provide the training and the tools they need to break out of this cycle and progress to higher skilled jobs, with better levels of reward.
Often the debate about pay is focused on where we set the minimum bar. This is important and business should be play its part in moving this forward, but we should also be thinking proactively about how we can give widespread access through clearly defined and understood pathways, for people to become better equipped to progress in work, moving them off the lowest pay levels.
In doing this on scale it supports not only individual success, but will build the more highly skilled talent pool business has identified as essential to support growth.
Catherine Ward is Group HR Director at Interserve Plc
 ICM Research interviewed an online sample of 2,014 adults aged 18+ on 4–6 June 2014. Interviews were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules